The industry's total revenue in 2012 fell 2 percent to $38.6 billion from $39.5 billion in 2011, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Online subscriptions helped circulation revenue rise by 5 percent to $10.4 billion. It was the first gain since 2003.
The association's figures are projections based on a survey of 17 companies that represent about half of the industry's revenue. Publishers provided a detailed breakdown of their revenue on condition of anonymity.
For the first time, the NAA data incorporated new sources of revenue that virtually didn't exist for the industry a decade ago, including e-commerce, event hosting and providing advertising agency-like services to local companies. These categories accounted for $3 billion in revenue in 2012. The NAA also began counting for the first time ad revenue from niche publications and such things as flyers sent to non-subscribers. Those segments generated $2.9 billion.
If the new categories weren't included, revenue would have fallen 3 percent in 2012, to $32.7 billion, still the most modest decline since 2006. In 2011, revenue not counting the new categories fell 5 percent to $33.9 billion. Revenue peaked at $60.2 billion in 2005.
"This doesn't look like an industry that's just rolling over," said Caroline Little, president of the NAA.
Little said the association's new way of compiling data tells a more optimistic story of an industry coping with an advertising shift away from print by generating new sources of revenue and selling news online and through mobile devices.
Among the industry's most positive developments is the growth in circulation revenue. Some 400 U.S. newspapers now charge readers for online access. In some cases, online subscriptions are bundled with print subscriptions. As a result, the industry's 2012 circulation revenue returned to slightly above the 2007 level of $10.3 billion. It was still below 2003's peak of $11.2 billion.